Lessons From Therapy: You Aren’t Crazy

“You are like me. You get really emotional and you feel these super high highs and these super low lows. It’s very unprofessional.”

I have this tendency to get especially heated when I see unfair treatment and double standards in the workplace and in different social circles.

My boss said this line to me after I reacted negatively to him having a tantrum at work. In his frustration at an inefficient supply chain, he misdirected his anger and correction at the wrong arm of his organization. In my anger, I shut down and began to work at a frenzied pace to demonstrate that our arm was not the issue. He knew I was angry, and he knew I was protesting his own emotional unhinging. But he saved his comments for a private meeting we had later that week.

After having some time to cool off, he said this to me, and I genuinely wondered how I could become more professional since having temper tantrums at work is generally a sure way to get the boot.

I responded, “I agree that we are similar, but can I ask you a question? What strategies have you used to manage your emotions and temper at work?”

“Well I would ask your doctor first. But Prozac ‘works’ for me.”

(Note: I have nothing against medication, and I think that it is a very real solution for some of us and that is totally okay. However, in the context of my professional relationship, this was not an appropriate response. )

The situation might be slightly different, and maybe the boss is a parent, a significant other, or a friend, but we all have these moments where people either directly or indirectly say that we are too much or simply put: crazy.

“Stop being so emotional!”

“Why are you like this?”

“Stop making a scene!”

“You are being unprofessional”

“You should get help.”

By far, the most important lesson I have learned in therapy thus far has been that your emotions and the way that you are saddened, angered, drained, or frustrated, are valid.

I thought that therapy was going to be me paying a person to tell me how to “fix” me.

“Tell me about your childhood. How does that make you feel?”

In actuality, my therapy sessions are often me telling these stories and my therapist responding with something like:

“Wow. What an asshole?! He sounds super difficult to work with! It’s ironic that he’s telling you that you are too emotional when it’s his mismanagement of his own emotions that triggered your frustration.”

Some of us go through life and we speak our minds all of the time. It comes naturally and we do not take aggression or insults sitting down. We’ll fire back with as much tenacity as we were attacked with.

Others of us do our best to keep the peace. We get hurt by people and we get frustrated, but we play devil’s advocate as much as we can. We care SO much about where the other person is coming from and what experiences are informing the inflammatory behavior of those we interact with.

Before therapy, I believed it was impossible to both validate my own feelings and those of others when we were in conflict. I hated conflict and I hated disruptions to the peace. I always preferred just “sucking it up” in order to keep the peace rather than causing any sort of drama.

Of course my frustration and anger had to go somewhere, and so I would have occasional meltdowns and I coped unhealthily with a variety of different methods.

The wildest thing about having a third party professional validate you, is that after the initial disbelief, you begin to self-validate. It might take a couple sessions, or a couple months, or a couple years, but eventually you’ll begin to acknowledge that you feel the way that you feel and that it is completely justified.

Then, when you thought it couldn’t get any crazier, as you practice being in touch with your own emotions in order to figure out why certain behaviors from people tend to push you towards anger, weariness, sadness, or frustration, you become more empathetic to the experiences of others you interact with.

For me personally, the before and after looked something like this:

In the past, I might have had a disagreement with my mother and felt like I wasn’t being heard. When she would say certain phrases or behave in ways that had previously been used by my brain to push me towards shutting down, my brain would reinforce this past narrative that she did not understand or see me and I would just shut up and mentally check out of the conversation and take my frustration out somewhere else or on someone else.

Nowadays, we might have a conversation that turns emotionally charged due to our history. Even though voices might be raised, tears might be shed, and vulnerabilities might be exposed, I am capable of articulating why I feel the way that I do, while also deciphering what experiences are informing her behavior and her experience. So yes the emotions are being processed, but not at the expense of invalidating either of us.

Because at the end of the day, now we are both able to communicate why certain topics, behaviors, or words trigger us and we have enough experiencing internally processing our own emotions to understand and empathize with the other person.

CLEARLY not everyone has parents who are willing to go to therapy, but even without the reciprocal behavior, there is so much benefit that comes from the skill of self-validating.

When I left this job, I had a pretty emotionally high meeting with my boss. I was very grateful for the opportunities he had given me and the mentorship that he had offered me, but it was time to move on. On top of that, our relationship had become toxic for a handful of reasons. There was a lot of gaslighting and just mismatched expectations. I had been hired for one role but it had been misrepresented to me and what it eventually ended up being was not what I had initially agreed to. I had spent years thinking that I was unreasonable and that I should be thankful and grateful to have a job. I had asked numerous times for certain things to change, but a pattern of unkept promises and inaction eventually pushed me towards some very unhealthy habits that made me ask “why” I was trying to find solace in such unhelpful ways.

When I sat in that room and we had that conversation, my boss was obviously frustrated. He believed that I owed him more than a two weeks notice and he was pretty aggressive. I wanted soooo badly to lash out and unleash years of anger and frustration, but luckily I knew that this was the best move for both of us. As he attacked my “short notice” I self-validated and told him that I was sorry and that I had not done this before. I thanked him genuinely for giving me an opportunity when I had none and for taking care of me when I was struggling. He calmed down and we left on decent terms.

Long story short, self-validation is so important because it informs your life decisions.

What are you worth?

Is how you feel justified?

Why do you feel the way you do?

Are you actually angry or frustrated with the person you are taking your anger or frustration out on?

Some ways you can practically apply this concept of self-validation to your life are just taking a second to sit with your uncomfortable emotions after tumultuous encounters with family, coworkers, or friends.

Practice saying that “A normal person would be _____________ just like I am if placed in the same situation”

I think our friends (if they are good friends) generally try to do this to also validate us. Sometimes they try to play devil’s advocate or “humble” us with “sides we may not have seen” and that can play a role in gaslighting us. It can also lead to our inner voices invalidating us with things like “they have to say that because they are your friends” or “see even your friends think you are being unreasonable.”

After you validate how you feel, try and get to the root of why certain behaviors, words, or topics made you feel the way that you do.

Very very rarely, is something so upsetting just caused by a one-off scenario.

Process that feeling and really push into the discomfort that it causes in order to trace that feeling back into past interactions where you also felt the same way.

The final straw that actually got me to try out therapy was actually yelling at my girlfriend about a feeling that I had towards one of my exes. When I realized that I was hurting someone else because I was still hurting from something that was said to me by an entirely different person, it made me realize that I needed help identifying and tracing my own emotions.

I hope that this is helpful in some shape or form.

In closing:

You are seen.

How you feel is valid.

You aren’t crazy.

If you have two seconds, if you can maybe fill out this survey regarding the “Lessons from Therapy” series I would greatly appreciate it!

Go Where You Grow

Some say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

There have been many times in my life where I’ve really struggled with feeling like I was not progressing. The scenario would differ from case to case, but it always felt a bit like being a hamster on a motorized running wheel: exerting so much force, yet accomplishing nothing.

One of the hardest things as a young person is finding a sense of self-worth and purpose when family, education, and long-held beliefs are stripped away.

We look to mentors, bosses, professors, family members, friends, and colleagues to validate us and to see value in us. For many of us, the wind is swiftly removed from our sails as those we look up to, invalidate us and write us off as not being worth the risk or the time.

For years after earning my bachelor’s degree, I struggled with the tension between what my school told me I was worth and what the jobs I worked paid me.

As an engineering student who failed out and had to re-tool halfway through his college career, it was demoralizing to have that security of direction stripped away.

I allowed my bosses to critically affect how I viewed myself. I bought into the lie that as a young person, my time, my sanity, and my value as a person were worth less than the mandates of the job.

Overtime was a given, and caring for oneself was simply not the way to building a successful career.

Do better.

Be better.

Sacrifice everything.

The business comes first.

I just finished a fantastic book called East of Eden by John Steinbeck. In the book, a major theme is that of the importance of each individual’s choice.

A possible interpretation of the story is that, no one is fated to be good or evil but that instead, each person may choose the path that they traverse.

Oftentimes we believe that we must stick with something or that we must earn the approval of a certain authority figure.

We agonize as time and time again we are trampled and simply not appreciated for the work we put in and the value we bring. Living and dying for affirmation and validation, we hold onto a romanticized notion of what it would be like to finally be recognized and valued.

All the while… we know that the day will never come when we will be seen for more than the box we have been placed into.

There is a story of a boy who is tasked by his dying grandfather to ask the local pawn shop how much it would buy an old watch for. The pawnshop owner offers a paltry amount of five dollars or so.

The grandfather then asks the boy to ask the local store how much they would buy it for, and that store also proceeds to quote a price of not much more than ten dollars.

Lastly, the grandfather asks the boy to take it to the watch museum where the museum offers the boy something around a million dollars because the watch is an antique.

The grandfather tells the boy that value is in the eyes of the beholder and that it is important to go only where his intrinsic value is appreciated.

Some will read this and will insist that laziness or some other character flaw is the downfall of our generation. They might say that hard work is the key to being recognized and that believing that we are unique and have giftings in different areas is a stupid and ineffective way of falsely building the self-esteem of a soft generation that can’t handle the pressure of working hard and striving for greatness.

Indeed, hard work and diligence are critical to success and growth. However, I would argue against the labels that the older generations place on our shoulders.

We went to school even when the threat of imminent death at the end of a gun was a very real possibility.

We watched our families crumble as our parents’ years-long stifling of their emotions manifested in mid-life crises, divorces, and ultimately fractured families.

We traversed a whole new battlefield of online bullying and complete removal of privacy as we chose to stay connected and relevant on social media.

There are so many trials that we face that generations before us did not experience in the same quantities or magnitudes.

Indeed, we are not weak.

You are not weak.

This post is for the discouraged and the passed over.

Those of us who were more than qualified and worked our asses off, yet never seemed to earn the favor of those in power.

You have value, and just because your boss or supervisor doesn’t see it or acknowledge it, doesn’t mean that you don’t.

Sometimes when we are pushed down and ignored for too long, we buy into the lie that we have nothing to offer and that we truly have no value.

When this happens we oftentimes become paralyzed and we wait for change to magically occur as we repeat the same motions that have done nothing for us in the past.

And we wait.

And wait.

The truth of the matter is that not everyone is capable of appreciating what we uniquely bring to the table. That being said, many will not appreciate us.

Significant others, family members, bosses, and friends will take us for granted and completely miss all that we are capable of.

And that is okay.

Life is far too short to try and earn the affection and approval of those who simply won’t see what is right in front of them.

Love yourself enough to say, “Enough of this bullshit. I’ll take my talents elsewhere and go where I grow.”

I worked at places prior where I was told that I was stupid, that I was too emotional, and that I was the problem that caused dysfunctionality within the team.

I spent years growing, adapting, and trying to meet the ever-moving standards that my bosses would place upon me, but I was never enough.

It was the scariest and hardest thing for me to take a step of faith and leave.

Now I work at a place where the CEO constantly praises my ability to communicate, my organizational skills, and my personality.

Not much has changed about me, and yet my bosses see the value that was always there and they go a step further as they validate and affirm it.

They constructively coach me and help me to grow, but they make sure that I know how valuable I am to them verbally and otherwise.

Deciding to journey into the unknown can be so terrifying, but remember that you are human and that you can only give so much. If you are giving your all and it still isn’t enough to appease those who you are working for, it isn’t worth dying a little bit every day to fight a battle that can’t really ever be won.

You are worth more than you know.

If the people you work for make you feel like they don’t need or value you the opposite is in fact the truth: You don’t need them.

Go where you are appreciated for who you are.